When trying a new appetizer, there’s a litmus test that I like to use for how tasty it is. I call it The Party Test. I like it because I tend to be too subjective to judge own appetizers so I like to rely on the palates and tastes of others to decide if something is good.
This is how it goes: Show up at a party with your dish. Don’t let people know it’s your dish (skews the results). It’s sometimes unavoidable that the host will know that you brought it, but normally you can disguise it from most guests. Then sit back and watch. Do people prod at it curiously? Do people devour it? Does word spread about the crazy orange dip on the table? Does someone fake vomit after trying it? (Didn’t actually happen.)
You see, it’s pretty easy to sell a dip. But it’s an entirely different thing if the dip can sell itself. I took this acorn squash dip to a holiday party a few weeks ago and I would give it a solid (and honest) B on The Party Test.
This dip is packed full of squash flavor which I consider to be a very good thing, but not everyone likes squash. Also, while I was tasting it, I could tell that it needed something. The flavor was just not quite there. I asked a very trustworthy friend what he thought (revealing the dip’s creator): “Needs hot sauce.”
He was half-joking because he puts hot sauce on everything, but he was also right. It needed some spice to it. I’ve adjusted the recipe below to have a bit more heat which I think would improve this dish.
1) Slice squash in half, scoop out seeds, pierce skins with fork or knife and bake at 350 degrees for an hour. let cool slightly before handling.
2) Scoop out squash and measure out flesh. Add to other ingredients and mix well.
3) Add dip to a buttered casserole dish.
4) Bake at 400 degrees for 30 minutes.
5) For pita chips, cut pita into sixths and split each sixth in half. Toss with a drizzle of olive oil and kosher salt. Bake at 400 degrees for 10-12 minutes and stir once halfway through.
6) Serve dip with the chips!
Adapted from a Kitchn recipe.
Preparing the Squash
Literally the hardest part of this recipe is cutting the squash open. These suckers are hard. Get a good, large knife and work slowly and carefully so you don’t lose a finger! Start by piercing the squash in the middle and push your knife all the way through vertically until it hits the cutting board, then slide the knife down, slicing the squash open.
If that doesn’t make sense, check out this video which shows the technique I used. Once you get your squash halved, scoop out all the seeds.
Then flip them onto a baking sheet and pierce the skins all over with a fork or knife. Bake these at 350 degrees for 60 minutes or until they are very tender. Yours might take a bit longer depending on the size of your squash, but mine took 60 minutes.
These will be very hot when they come out of the oven, so let them cool for a few minutes before even bothering trying to handle them.
Then you can scoop out all the delicious roasted squash interior! If you wanted to be all fancy, you could even fill the shells with the dip and use that as a serving vessel. I just decided to use a baking dish though and so I threw out the pretty shells.
Making the dip
Once the squash is roasted, the dip is pretty straightforward! Just toss in all your other dip ingredients and you’re all set!
Be sure to taste the dip and adjust for salt and pepper and also hot sauce if you want your version to be spicier or not. Then scoop it into your baking dish. You could obviously do this a day or so ahead and then just bake it before the party!
The Pita Chips
I think pita chips are the perfect vessel for this dip. Actually, I think they are the perfect vessel for almost any dip.
And while the store variety is good if you’re in a crunch, they are super easy to make at home and are vastly superior on the taste scale. I like to make whole wheat pita chips but you can use the white variety if that’s your thing.
Just stack up 6 pitas and cut them into sixths like a pizza.
Then take each sixth and open it up, splitting it into two sides. That means that each pita should yield 12 chips. Some will rip and that’s just fine. Lay them all out on a baking sheet and drizzle them with olive oil and a good sprinkle of Kosher salt.
Toss the pita chips a bit to make sure the oil is even and then bake them at 350 degrees for about 30 minutes. Stir them every 10 minutes or so to make sure they are cooking evenly. The ones on the bottom of the tray may get a bit soggy while cooking, but if you stir them around, they should all cook evenly.
They should be dry and crispy after 30 minutes, but you might need to bake them for another 5-10 minutes or so depending on your oven, the kind of pita you are using, and other variables. They should be mostly crisp and slightly browned, but not a deep brown. They will continue to turn crispy as they cool also!
One 10X13 baking sheet can hold 6 pitas worth of chips. Don’t over fill the baking sheets more than that though or they won’t cook evenly.
TIP: While you can make these days in advance, I don’t recommend it. Why? Because they won’t last until the party. You will eat all of them. Trust me on this one.
Baking the Dip
Once you are ready to party, just pop the dip in a 350 degree, preheated oven for about 30 minutes until it is hot and bubbly in the center. Then serve next to the pita chips and maybe additional hot sauce in case my hot sauce loving friend happens to be at your party.
The only thing I will add about this dip is that it’s best right out of the oven. I actually cooked mine, then let it cool, then reheated it and it lost a good amount of moisture with the double warming.
Other than that, I thought it was awesome. If you give it a shot, let me know if it passes The Party Test!